Saturday, March 22, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #80: Sunny, Vol. 1 by Taiyo Matsumoto

Everyone grows up alone. No matter how many people you have around you, no matter how large or loving the family, turning into an adult is something that happens inside, where no one else can see or help. That doesn't mean, though, that having other people around -- the right people, the ones who care for and about you -- wouldn't help.

The kids in Taiyo Matsumoto's series Sunny don't have even that much luck. They're growing up with each other and hired help, living in a group home somewhere uninteresting sometime on the downhill side of the 1970s. It's not quite an orphanage, since we know that many or most of them have living parents that gave them up, but it's the same effect: a few adults, closer to teachers or bosses than parents, and a bunch of kids raising themselves. And the one place that is theirs -- not belonging to any of the adults, not the school where they're forced to go, a place to escape and dream -- is the old, probably derelict yellow Nissan Sunny 1200 in the yard of that house.

Each chapter -- this first volume reprints six of them -- tells a story focusing on one of the kids of that house, from nerdy new kid Sei to white-haired wild child Haruo to possibly learning-disabled Junsuke to would-be drop-out teen Kenji to Megumi (who Haruo has a crush on) to Keiko (who has a crush on Haruo) to the massively overweight and simple Taro. Matsumoto looks at them in turn, like a literary writer, examining the house and its inhabitants from all angles and displaying all of the interesting things he finds.  There may be a larger plot to the story, eventually -- but, for these first six chapters, we're still settling in and learning who everyone is at the Star Child Home.

Matsomoto is assured and confident in his abilities at this point in his career -- with the Eisner-winning Tekkon Kinkreet behind him, among other works (I reviewed his Gogo Monster during the last stint of Book-A-Day) -- and he's secure enough to let that settling-in happen, to shift from character to character to introduce us to every inhabitant of the home. His art is more personal and impressionistic than most of the manga we see in the US, equally focused on faces and on objects like the Sunny, and we come to know what these boys and girls care about from what they do and so to each other.

Sunny, so far, is more than a little unsettling, as growing up is always unsettling -- it's the time when everything changes and all expectations are thwarted. It's understated and complex and surprising and always closely observed -- a great comic by any name and an excellent book of character and nuance and detail.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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